Grading Social Media

March 1, 2010

Prof. Development

Later this week, I’m giving the keynote address at the University of Southern Indiana’s Communications Symposium, and while I’m there, I’ll be meeting with a number of their communications classes, including Intro to Interpersonal Communications, Special Events Promotions, Internet Communications, and several others. If you’ve kept up with this blog, you know that I’m really interested in the intersection of social media and education, and my old Public Relations 101 professor now teaches in the USI communications department, so I’m particularly excited for this opportunity.

While I’m sure I’ll be having a ton of conversations with both students and faculty, about a lot of different topics, one of the things that I’m interested in learning more about is how (and if) social media has had any impact where it really matters at the collegiate level – student grades. In last week’s #SMCEDU chat, we discussed the issue of grading students in classes that teach social media. If you’re teaching social media, how do you grade your students on how well they’re using it? What about those classes that aren’t teaching social media, is there a place for social media in those classes too? How should social media fit into the world of academia? What’s the real-life impact of social media on the integrity of the academic process?

I remember back when I was in college, social media wasn’t really used yet – the closest we had was AOL Instant Messenger and Wikipedia. My campus didn’t even have cell phone coverage until after I graduated so no one had cell phones either. Grading the use of social media was a non-issue. But now, with social media such a huge part of public relations, advertising, marketing, sociology, and even biology, it’s becoming even more important that the next generation not only understands how to use social media, but how to use it for more than just organizing fraternity mixers or keeping in touch with your classmates.

The question then becomes – how do we teach our students to use social media? Do we even need to, or is this a case of the students knowing more than the teacher? Is it better to have a separate “Social Media 101” class, or to integrate it into existing classes? Do you teach all students, or just those in particular disciplines? And then, how do we grade them? What makes one better at using social media than another – more fans/followers? Higher quality posts? Greater engagement?

I tend to subscribe to the theory that social media should be:

  1. Weaved into how the students work – More and more professors are starting blogs, using YouTube in the classroom, and even tweeting.  When students see their professor using social media tools as part of the normal day-to-day way of doing things, it makes the students look at these tools not as “cool new things,” but a normal part of doing business. When email first came into vogue, how did students learn how to use it? They learned it from their professors – they knew that the professor was going to be using email throughout the class and unless you used it as well, you weren’t going to get a good grade. The use of email itself wasn’t graded, but you were at a severe disadvantage if you didn’t use it.
  2. Integrated into the class rather than as a separate class unto itself – If you’re a communications major, I think you should learn about social media’s impact to communications. If you’re a biology major, you should learn about social media’s impact on biology. I don’t see a need for a “Social Media 101” course, primarily because everyone will use it differently, especially across disciplines. Would you have a Social Media and Communications 101, a Biology and Social Media 101 course, etc.? It’s just not scalable. No, I’d rather see social media taught as it’s applicable to the individual classes, not as a one-size fits all approach to learning how to tweet or blog.

Grading social media then, becomes not so much an issue of identifying if or how well students are using social media, but of integrating social media into the curriculum where it makes sense for your class, of integrating it into the way the teacher teaches, and then just grading as you always have. Because if a student gets an “A” in my PR 101 class, that would mean that they’ve read my blog posts, that they’ve taken my quizzes on books like Brian Solis’ “Putting the Public Back into Public Relations,” that they’ve completed the class assignment where they had to write a collaborative paper using a wiki, that they had to create a relationship with an external blogger and write a guest post for them, and that they’ve participated in class discussion, either in person, or via our closed Yammer network.

How would you grade the use of social media in today’s college environment?

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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  • Tim Dibble

    It is a sign of our grade/metric centric world that we seek to “grade” student’s use of social media. Unlike the origins of teaching under Plato and Aristotle, the use of question, answer, explanation and demonstration to achieve knowledge, we think today that we can simply show a few slides and then grade a person’s comprehension of the material on the slides. (we are actually grading the person’s short term memory capability)

    Social Media would seem to me to open to open the opportunity to resurrect the Socratic Method, the use of query, answer and debate on a near continuous basis and the development and demonstration of knowledge based on participation rather than memorization. Of course in our grade centric world, we still need a method to assign some stupid letter to it, so lets have Team Teaching, three teachers assigning a letter grade to the student’s participation and effort. Unfortunately we can no longer rely solely on Socrates to provide the grade, he might be biased personally for or against a student so we need a panel to appear somewhat unbiased. Team Teaching of course enhances the collaboration model of Social Media.

  • Tim Dibble

    It is a sign of our grade/metric centric world that we seek to “grade” student’s use of social media. Unlike the origins of teaching under Plato and Aristotle, the use of question, answer, explanation and demonstration to achieve knowledge, we think today that we can simply show a few slides and then grade a person’s comprehension of the material on the slides. (we are actually grading the person’s short term memory capability)

    Social Media would seem to me to open to open the opportunity to resurrect the Socratic Method, the use of query, answer and debate on a near continuous basis and the development and demonstration of knowledge based on participation rather than memorization. Of course in our grade centric world, we still need a method to assign some stupid letter to it, so lets have Team Teaching, three teachers assigning a letter grade to the student’s participation and effort. Unfortunately we can no longer rely solely on Socrates to provide the grade, he might be biased personally for or against a student so we need a panel to appear somewhat unbiased. Team Teaching of course enhances the collaboration model of Social Media.

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  • @Tim – I love it. Totally agree that we should considering all options here, including potentially not even “grading” in the traditional sense. This is the type of thinking that we need to put some more rigor around in our #smcedu discussions.

  • @Tim – I love it. Totally agree that we should considering all options here, including potentially not even “grading” in the traditional sense. This is the type of thinking that we need to put some more rigor around in our #smcedu discussions.

  • Brooks T. Cooper

    I think your right Steve, and I have pretty much always had the view point that social media is just another avenue for normal communication. Although, I expect that even with the next generation of bloggers and facebookers that there will be a feeling of uncertainty with the usage of social media (But maybe not). I’ve announced this post to my Advertising Seminar Class and we are exited to ask you questions about it on Wednesday!

  • Brooks T. Cooper

    I think your right Steve, and I have pretty much always had the view point that social media is just another avenue for normal communication. Although, I expect that even with the next generation of bloggers and facebookers that there will be a feeling of uncertainty with the usage of social media (But maybe not). I’ve announced this post to my Advertising Seminar Class and we are exited to ask you questions about it on Wednesday!

  • Tim Dibble

    It would be nice to see education turn full circle, from inquisitive discussion through rigorous memorization and grades back to inquisitive discussion.

  • Tim Dibble

    It would be nice to see education turn full circle, from inquisitive discussion through rigorous memorization and grades back to inquisitive discussion.

  • Thanks Brooks – looking forward to talking with you guys this week!

  • Thanks Brooks – looking forward to talking with you guys this week!

  • You’ll find interesting soMe-education ideas at #lrnchat. It’s an interactive twitter session on Thursday nights beginning, I believe, at 8 p.m. Central time.

  • You’ll find interesting soMe-education ideas at #lrnchat. It’s an interactive twitter session on Thursday nights beginning, I believe, at 8 p.m. Central time.

  • Thanks Kris! I’ll check it out – nice meeting you in Evansville!

  • Thanks Kris! I’ll check it out – nice meeting you in Evansville!

  • Steve,

    Agree 100% that the best way to really learn these tools is to actually use them and integrate them into whatever field or discipline the students are studying. Many years ago, a very forward thinking professor required every student in the GIS class I was taking to learn the basics of html code and to post all of their assignments to their own Web site. This experience has served me well ever since.

    Two additional, and very important aspects to this are:
    1)

  • Steve,

    Agree 100% that the best way to really learn these tools is to actually use them and integrate them into whatever field or discipline the students are studying. Many years ago, a very forward thinking professor required every student in the GIS class I was taking to learn the basics of html code and to post all of their assignments to their own Web site. This experience has served me well ever since.

    Two additional, and very important aspects to this are:
    1)

  • Steve,

    Agree 100% that the best way to really learn these tools is to actually use them and integrate them into whatever field or discipline the students are studying. Many years ago, a very forward thinking professor required every student in the GIS class I was taking to learn the basics of html code and to post all of their assignments to their own Web site. This experience has served me well ever since.

    Two additional, and important, aspects to this are:
    1) By using these tools, students are contributing to the publicly available knowledge on the subject at hand. With more people involved and networked, the field itself (whatever it may be) should benefit tremendously.
    2) Students that are adept in using these tools will be able to make important connections to other professors and professionals in their field – increasing their network and their career possibilities

  • Steve,

    Agree 100% that the best way to really learn these tools is to actually use them and integrate them into whatever field or discipline the students are studying. Many years ago, a very forward thinking professor required every student in the GIS class I was taking to learn the basics of html code and to post all of their assignments to their own Web site. This experience has served me well ever since.

    Two additional, and important, aspects to this are:
    1) By using these tools, students are contributing to the publicly available knowledge on the subject at hand. With more people involved and networked, the field itself (whatever it may be) should benefit tremendously.
    2) Students that are adept in using these tools will be able to make important connections to other professors and professionals in their field – increasing their network and their career possibilities

  • Great points there Andrew – the ability to contribute to the collective knowledge of the field is oft-overlooked, but think about the efficiencies and innovations that could be gained by linking up all the medical (for example) students across the country using a common platform.

  • Great points there Andrew – the ability to contribute to the collective knowledge of the field is oft-overlooked, but think about the efficiencies and innovations that could be gained by linking up all the medical (for example) students across the country using a common platform.

  • Interesting post Steve. I think I’ve been quite lucky in that my coursework in Science, Tech & Society @Stanford has pretty deeply integrated social media, from the study of blogging as a socio-technical phenomenon, to collaborative authoring through class wikis, to case-studies on social media businesses to actually coding/designing social media applications. I’m currently working on part of a final exam for my sci-fi literature class that involves critically analyzing a Wikipedia entry on one of the texts and re-writing it. Other assignments for this same class have included building objects and interacting in Second Life and contrasting the issues of identity/humanity which Second Life raises, with themes/issues that we’ve encountered in sci-fi texts and in our use of social media.

  • Interesting post Steve. I think I’ve been quite lucky in that my coursework in Science, Tech & Society @Stanford has pretty deeply integrated social media, from the study of blogging as a socio-technical phenomenon, to collaborative authoring through class wikis, to case-studies on social media businesses to actually coding/designing social media applications. I’m currently working on part of a final exam for my sci-fi literature class that involves critically analyzing a Wikipedia entry on one of the texts and re-writing it. Other assignments for this same class have included building objects and interacting in Second Life and contrasting the issues of identity/humanity which Second Life raises, with themes/issues that we’ve encountered in sci-fi texts and in our use of social media.

  • That’s great Tariq – seems like Stanford has integrated social media into the curriculum pretty well in your program. As a result, do you now feel more comfortable using social media for reasons beyond just keeping in touch in friends?

  • That’s great Tariq – seems like Stanford has integrated social media into the curriculum pretty well in your program. As a result, do you now feel more comfortable using social media for reasons beyond just keeping in touch in friends?

  • Yes, I think I’m definitely more comfortable than I would be otherwise. I had sort of an epiphany though when I was working at Microsoft last summer and since then I’ve really become a power user of SM. It’s still hard to relate my understanding of SM as a professional toolset to friends who haven’t had that aha! moment.

  • Yes, I think I’m definitely more comfortable than I would be otherwise. I had sort of an epiphany though when I was working at Microsoft last summer and since then I’ve really become a power user of SM. It’s still hard to relate my understanding of SM as a professional toolset to friends who haven’t had that aha! moment.

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